Today was the last day of our tour. Tonight we would say goodbye to Mohammed, and settle into Marrakesh, from where we would fly to Venice soon after.
I was still a little sick, but I got a lot better over the past few days. I didn’t have to go to the bathroom so often, but I still got frequent tummy aches and diarrhea. I hoped I would be completely active by the time we get to Italy.
Last night we arrived at a neat hotel in Ouarzazate, complete with a dinner that I hoped was wonderful. I was too sick so I couldn’t eat that wonderful poolside dinner with everyone else.
This morning included being woken up by Jasper and Kieran, quickly packing up, and eating a traditional Moroccan breakfast with bread, jam, butter, oil, and honey. We also ate yogurt and orange juice. The adults got coffee. This made Jasper and Kieran want coffee. Jasper and Kieran love coffee. Though they never get it because they can’t have it. Then with the thought of being able to sleep in Marrakesh tonight in my head, I climbed into the van.
With all of our stuff strapped to the top of the car, we drove to a kasbah in Ouarzazate. A kasbah was like a central meeting and gathering place for the Berbers hundreds of years ago. We took a tour inside. We learned about royal life in the kasbah, and how the courtyard would be full of dancers, and the women would watch the action from their windows. The royals would sit on a balcony and snack while they watched performances of dancing and music. We toured other rooms of the kasbah, including the kitchens and a tiny prayer room. At the end of the tour there was a room of artwork that was for sale. We bought some artwork, but it took us waaaaaay too long. We probably took an extra 45 minutes picking artwork to ship back via Pilar to Seattle.
We drove out to the outskirts of Ouarzazate, where we visited the Atlas production studios, and looked at the actual props that the studios used in the films. We have only seen a few of the films that were made there, but we recognized some of the props nonetheless. A few films that have been filmed there are Gladiator, Kingdom of Heaven, Jewel of the Nile, Babel, Cleopatra, Vikings, Asterix & Obelix: Mission Cleopatra, Ben Hur, and some of The Game of Thrones. We saw props and buildings of all different types poking out from over the walls that surrounded the studios. The place looked fake. We parked the car in a rocky, trash-filled parking lot and went inside. We saw many different things at once. There were cages and chariots to one side, boats on another. Ahead of us was a big model plane. Near it were army trucks, cars, and more wacky stuff. They were all fake. Pretty much everything we looked at was just fake. We met our guide and he walked around with us, telling us about how some of the chariots had been used in Ben Hur and Gladiator, and the boats were used in Cleopatra, and the planes were used in another movie (I forget the name). These studios hadn’t really made any big movies since before 2010.
We saw how some things that look like shining palace statues might just actually be made of styrofoam. Some big stone block could actually be only a couple inches thick. I have a new look on movies now. A whole lot of what you see in films is really completely just a prop, just there to make it look like something else. We went inside a (fake) Arabic house which from the inside looked very real, but the outside was just a whole bunch of modern-looking scaffolding. A temple that had a bunch of statues inside had a lot of hidden secrets. The back of the statues was just a stick and some styrofoam. The statues were supposed to look like they were made out of solid metal!
What would be the use of making a movie studio in Morocco? Well, to build a fake Egyptian palace, it would take a lot of workers to make it. People here in Morocco would probably work for lower wages than someone from the US. Plus, if you worked in the US, and you wanted to create a scene of a bustling marketplace full of Arabic-looking people, you would have to get them all over to America! If you were in somewhere like Morocco, then they would naturally be all around you. Plus, it’s easy to film a scene of a Moroccan landscape if you are in Morocco. Not so easy if you’re in America. Another way it helps is if you want to recreate an Arabic scene, then you might want to ask Arabic people, who basically live all over the place here in Morocco.
From there we drove through the mountains until we got to Ait Benhaddou, a UNESCO World Heritage site and an ancient town on a hill. It was placed like this to shield itself from the wind and rain and snow that comes down from the Atlas mountains. The wind level there was very high. We got out of the car to climb up through the city. At some points, the wind would blow sand onto our legs, and our shins would sting from the impact. The wind was very strong as we climbed to the top, occasionally gusting sand into our faces. At one point we had to talk slightly louder in order to hear each other. When we got to the very top of the hill, then the gusts were very strong, and at some points it was hard to walk straight. It whipped at our clothes, and tried to tear us off the hill. It’s like the wind had hands, and it was using them to try to tear us to the ground! It would rip at my clothes until I had to seek shelter by the stone building that stood alone at the top. If you went to the other side of the top of the hill, then the wind would be unbearable, and you couldn’t stay there for more than a couple seconds.
This is how it worked: The wind would come off the Atlas Mountains and into the valley. This hill was right in its path, and the wind would hit the backside of the hill like a battering ram. Luckily, the town was placed on the other side of this natural shield. If the town was on the windy side of it, then Ait Benhaddou would be constantly pelted with ferocious wind. Lack of physical protection is why it is soooooo windy at the top of the hill.
We climbed down the whole hill again to go finally to Marrakesh. Marrakesh is a very busy city in which we would be staying in a fancy riad. Janet booked us a fancy riad in the medina of Marrakesh, because we would be very tired after our long and busy tour (she was right).
We drove a long, windy, mountain road to Marrakesh through the Atlas mountains. We told our host that we would arrive at our airbnb at about 5:30 in the evening. Our ETA was 8:00 pm. We took way too long picking artwork in the Kasbah, and too long in the studios.
We wound through the mountains in the dark, until we could see a huge mass of gleaming lights off in the distance. That was Marrakesh. We drove endlessly through the streets until we were in the heart of the Marrakesh medina. We parked the car and trotted to our riad, with our packs right behind us. My heart was at ease. This was the end of our time of the tiring tour, with all the hopping and getting to places late at night, and having then to leave early the next morning to begin another day of driving. But that also meant that our time of learning and experiencing Morocco was over. And we had to say goodbye to Mohammed. I was very happy but very sad about arriving in Marrakesh. We got to relax. But had to leave Morocco soon. But Morocco was so fun. I wanted to stay. But we’d be in Italy. We’d only be here in Marrakesh for 3 nights. Was that long enough?
We are now in Marrakesh. We are spending time in a riad where we spend a lot of time relaxing. We are going to relax in our riad. We might leave the house to get groceries or something small, but Marrakesh is vacation. A 2-day vacation. We will relax here until it is time to fly off to Italy.
Below: At the kasbah
Below: Atlas studios
Below (left to right): Ait Benhaddou from a distance, at the top, gusting sand at the bottom, us near the top
Below: Atlas mountains